Sheltered by the Millionaire

By: Catherine Mann

One

The airbag inflated. Hard. Fast.

Pain exploded through Megan Maguire. From the bag hitting her in the face. From her body slamming against the seat. But it wasn’t nearly as excruciating as the panic pumping through her as she faced the latest obstacle in reaching her daughter after a tornado.

A tornado for God’s sake.

Her insides quivered with fear and her body ached from the impact. The wind howled outside her small compact car on the lonely street, eerily abandoned for 4:30 on a weekday afternoon. Apparently she was the only one stupid enough to keep driving in spite of the weather warnings of a tornado nearby. In fact, reports of the twister only made her more determined. She had to get to her daughter.

Megan punched her way clear of the deflating airbag to find a shattered windshield. The paw-shaped air freshener still swayed, dangling from her rearview mirror and releasing a hint of lavender. Files from work were scattered all over the floor from sliding off the seat along with the bag containing her daughter’s Halloween costume. Then Megan looked outside and she damn near hyperventilated.

The hood of her sedan was covered by a downed tree. Steam puffed from the engine.

If the thick oak had fallen two seconds later, it would have landed on the roof of her car. She could have been crushed. She could have died.

Worst of all, her daughter would have become an orphan for all intents and purposes since Evie’s father had never wanted anything to do with her. Panic pushed harder on Megan’s chest like a cement slab.

Forcing oxygen back into her lungs one burning gasp at a time, she willed her racing heart to slow. Nothing would stop her from getting to her daughter. Not a totaled car. Not a downed tree. And definitely not...a...panic...attack.

Gasping for air, she flung open the door and stepped into the aftermath of the storm. Sheeting rain and storm winds battered her. Thank heaven she’d already left work to pick up her daughter for a special outing before they announced the tornado warning on her radio. If she’d been at the shelter when the warning sirens went off she wouldn’t have been able to leave until given the okay.

But if she’d left at 1:00 to go to the movie as they’d originally planned, Evie would have been with her, safe and sound.

As a single mom, Megan needed her job as an animal shelter director. Evie’s father had hit the road the minute Megan had told him about the unexpected pregnancy. Any attempts at child support had been ignored until he faded from sight somewhere in the Florida Keys. She’d finally accepted he was gone from her life and Evie’s. She could only count on herself.

Determination fueled her aching body. She was less than a mile from her daughter’s Little Tots Daycare. She would walk every step of the way if she had to. Rain plastered her khakis and work shirt to her body. Thank goodness her job called for casual wear. She would have been hard pressed to climb over the downed tree in heels.

At least the tornado had passed, but others could finger down from the gathering clouds at any minute. With every fiber of her being she prayed the worst was over. She had to get to her daughter, to be sure she was safe.

The small cottage that housed Little Tots Daycare had appeared so cute and appealing when she’d chosen it for Evie. Now, she could only think how insubstantial the structure would be against the force of such a strong storm. What if Evie was trapped inside?

Sweeping back a clump of soggy red hair, Megan clambered over the tree trunk and back onto the road strewn with debris. She took in the devastation ahead, collapsed buildings and overturned cars. The town had been spun and churned, pieces of everyday life left lining the street. Glass from blown-out windows. Papers and furniture from businesses. Pictures and books. The tornado’s path was clear, like a massive mower had cut through the land. Uprooting trees, slicing through lives, spewing a roof or a computer like it was nothing more than a blade of grass sliced and swept away.

She picked her way past half of a splintered door. Wind whistled through the trees, bending and creaking the towering oaks. But she didn’t hear the telltale train sound that preceded a tornado.

Thoughts of Evie scared and waiting dumped acid on Megan’s gut. Even knowing the Little Tots Daycare workers were equipped to handle the crisis didn’t quell her fears. Evie was her daughter.

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